The Decline of USWNT Dominance at Women’s World Cup 2023

Since its inception, the Women’s World Cup has been a stage where the world’s finest female football talents converge to compete for glory and showcase their skills on the global stage. The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) has enjoyed an unprecedented era of dominance. They won 4 out of the 8 World Cups so far, placing in the top 3 on all of them. The biggest US soccer superstars ever have achieved their heights with the USWNT. However, the 2023 Women’s World Cup has marked a significant shift in the landscape. The team faced an unexpected exit in the early knockout phase. People are shocked and the US public is disappointed. Let us look into the evolution of the Women’s World Cup to understand the reason for the decline in USWNT’s dominance.

A Glance Back in Time: The Evolution of the Women’s World Cup

The Women’s World Cup, first introduced in 1991, marked a pivotal moment for women’s football. The inaugural tournament, held in China, opened a window to a previously unexplored arena for female athlete. The rise of women’s soccer worldwide is undeniable. Over the years, the tournament gained momentum, attracting growing interest and showcasing exceptional skills and determination.

Throughout the tournament’s history, the USWNT emerged as a powerhouse, securing four titles – 1991, 1999, 2015, and 2019. Their triumphs not only highlighted their dominance but also played a crucial role in elevating the popularity of women’s football worldwide. The team’s relentless pursuit of excellence made them a source of inspiration for aspiring female athletes everywhere.

Sport dominance is not normal

Nobody in soccer has had as much success, closest being Brazil National Team between 1958 and 1970, winning 3 out of the 4 titles. Basically, that is a statistical anomaly, not just in soccer, but overall. During that time, every kid played soccer for endless hours on the streets of Brazil. That team had one of the best players of all time, and definitely the best player of his time – Pele. Unlike today, the players of the team were mostly playing in the national league in Brazil and could time their form for the World Cup. While that was a hard period for the country, the national team was a unifying opportunity for the nation. It is impossible to imagine such dominance in today’s world of soccer. The clubs have so much money that it always take precedence over the national teams.

For people outside of soccer, the USWNT looked like the US Dream Team with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in it. In fact, it is with great confidence we can say that the US had 12, if not 14, of the 15 best basketball players in that era. Let us be honest, even in the best years that couldn’t be said for the USWNT. So, while the dominance is clear, we shouldn’t overplay it. We will likely refer to the titles in 2015 and 2019 as the “golden generation”. Furthermore, it is important to understand that it is not normal to have that kind of talent when the competition is the most popular sport in the world. If the activity is underwater chess or pickle eating, that might have limited competition, but not soccer.

The Shifting Landscape: Why USWNT’s Early Exit is Not Entirely Surprising

Something has changed and let us take a look at it. While the USWNT’s history of success is undeniable, it is essential to acknowledge that the global women’s football landscape has evolved dramatically since their first triumph. Over the past few decades, investment, development, and increased support for women’s football have led to significant improvements in team dynamics, tactics, and overall competitiveness. Several factors contribute to the decline in USWNT’s dominance:

  1. Rise of Competing Powerhouses: Countries like Germany, France, and England have invested heavily in women’s football. They have talented squads capable of challenging the USWNT’s supremacy. These teams have honed their skills and developed tactical strategies that enable them to contend at the highest level. The best soccer clubs in Europe are competing in the UEFA Champions League with their women’s teams and they want to win. So, they leverage their fanbase, finances, scouting and coaching systems, as well as medical teams, infrastructure and knowledge.
  2. Development of Youth Programs: The success of the USWNT inspired countries to invest in robust youth development programs. As a result, younger soccer players have gained access to higher levels of coaching, facilities, and competitive opportunities, accelerating their growth and contributing to the overall elevation of the sport. In fact, the USWNT has supported growth of women’s soccer in countries like China, Japan and Jamaica. Not surprisingly, their women’s teams are ranking higher than the men’s national teams.
  3. Globalization of Women’s Football: The expansion of international talent pools has diversified the competitive landscape. Players from different continents now compete in top leagues around the world, sharing their experiences and learning from one another. This cross-pollination of talent has fostered a deeper understanding of the game and led to increased tactical innovation.
  4. Strategic Adaptation: Teams that once struggled against the USWNT have evolved their strategies to neutralize their strengths and exploit their vulnerabilities. This has led to more evenly matched contests, challenging the USWNT’s dominance and raising the overall level of competition. As any other national team, there are highs and lows when it comes to talent. Without dominant attacking superstars, it is obvious that it is hard to score goals even if the team dominates in other aspects of the game.

The Natural Progression: Other Teams Catching Up

The USWNT’s early exit from the 2023 Women’s World Cup should not be perceived solely as a decline in their abilities. Rather, it serves as a testament to the sport’s global growth and the natural progression of teams worldwide. The rise of other competitive squads is a testament to the effectiveness of investments, dedication, and long-term planning put forth by various nations.

As other teams have caught up, the overall quality of the Women’s World Cup has significantly improved. The unpredictability of matches, the emergence of new stars, and the increasing competitiveness have led to a more engaging and captivating tournament. It’s better for the fans, for the players and for the rising popularity of the sport.

Path forward for the USWNT

The 2023 Women’s World Cup has marked a turning point in the narrative of USWNT’s dominance. While their early exit might come as a surprise, it is vital to understand that the evolution of women’s football has led to a more competitive and diverse landscape. The rise of other teams is characterized by enhanced development programs, strategic adaptation, and tactical innovation.

The US Soccer Federation needs to reexamine the way to develop players. The importance of creating technical excellence and superstars is the way forward and there has to be a plan for that. The system doesn’t support that at the moment and it’s only a matter of time before it will become apparent that a team can hold for a draw, but a moment of brilliance will make the difference at a knockout match.

As we move forward, the legacy of the USWNT remains intact, as they have played a pivotal role in shaping the present state of women’s football. Their achievements have inspired generations and paved the way for the growth and recognition of the sport on a global scale. The 2023 Women’s World Cup serves as a reminder that no team’s dominance is indefinite, and as the sport continues to flourish, new heroes will emerge, each contributing to the tapestry of women’s football history.